Academic Mystery Fiction Introduction

Introduction

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Institutions of higher learning provide the settings for many intriguing mystery and detective novels. The roots of academic mystery fiction go even deeper than those of the mystery and detective genre itself. Long before Edgar Allan Poe created what is generally regarded as the first detective story during the mid-nineteenth century and far longer before fictional crime took up residence in academia, the seventeenth century poet John Donne unwittingly explained why colleges and universities have proved so congenial to writers of mysteries. In one of his sermons Donne observed,The university is a paradise, rivers of knowledge are there, arts and sciences flow from thence. Council tables are Horti conclusi, (as it is said in the Canticles), Gardens that are walled in, and they are Fontes signati, wells that are sealed up; bottomless depths of unsearchable counsels there.

As Donne shows, academia provides an ideal setting for works of detection. The twentieth century poet W. H. Auden had more to say on this subject. In his 1948 essay “The Guilty Vicarage,” he wrote that a detective story requires a “closed society,” a demand that might be met by a closely knit geographical group, such as a village or by an occupational group, such as a theatrical troupe. Auden also insisted that the milieu of a mystery should be an “innocent society in a state of grace,” or, as he later describes it in his essay, the “Great...

(The entire section is 558 words.)